medieval manoralism and the hajnal line

so instead of watching the super bowl, i made you guys this map:

i bet you’re thinking that that’s the hajnal line (again). but it’s not! (or is it?) no — that is a map of the spread and extent of manorialism during the medieval period as drawn by moi and based on the info in my friend, mitterauer’s, “Why Europe?”.

i know! it looks just like the hajnal line!:

manorialism got started amongst the franks in austrasia (big green blob on the map) “around the middle of the seventh century, or somewhat earlier.” it spread westwards and southwards along with the expansion of the carolingian empire and the ostsiedlung. and it seems to have been brought to britain by the anglo-saxons; there’s evidence in the law tracts for manors in wessex (other green blob on the map) by the end of the ninth century.

the farthest east the manor system made it was to the eastern limits of hajnal’s line — mitterauer is very clear about that boundary. he is also very clear that manorialism wasn’t found in ireland (the normans tried, but didn’t really succeed), scotland or wales. some pockets on the continent also missed out on manorialism, like frisia.

mitterauer was less specific about the boundaries of manorialism to the south. definitely greece and the balkans were completely left out. he refers to the southern part of the iberian peninsula and southern italy, but that’s all he said, so my lines in those cases are just shots in the dark.

it took some time for manorialism to spread as far east as it did — there were efforts to install the manor system in places like poland, belarus and the baltic area in the late middle ages and, in some cases, as late as the early modern period, so whatever evolutionary effects the manor system might’ve had on populations (here and here, for example), they had less time to work on eastern europeans than westerners. (same goes for christianity.)

there’s been debate about how old the hajnal line is — just how long have both male and female europeans been putting off marriage into their later years (mid-20s+)? in “Germania,” tacitus apparently reported that the germans married late…

“Sera iuuenum uenus, eoque inexhausta pubertas. Nec uirgines festinantur; eadem iuuenta, similis proceritas….”

…which google-translates as: “Late youths rigorous, and compared puberty. Not virgins hurried into marriage, the young man, and a similar stature….” which may or may not mean that tacitus thought both men and women married late in germanic society. in any case, tacitus was working from secondary sources at best and so may not have had the most accurate info. he was also trying to shame his fellow romans into shaping up by offering as comparison these well behaved germans, so … buyer beware.

on the other hand, archaeological evidence from anglo-saxon graves indicates that women married young — probably right around when they hit puberty, which is pretty normal for most human societies [pg. 107]:

“The evidence from the Anglo-Saxon cemetaries shows that teenage girls were often buried in forms of dress that made them indistinguishable from adult women from about the age of twelve onwards. That would fit with a predictable, marriageable age from the very young teens onwards, which we know of from comparable societies.”

going by the archaeological evidence, and what would otherwise be an extraordinary coincidence of the boundaries of manorialism and the hajnal line being almost exactly the same, i would happily bet that the late marriage of western europeans originated in the medieval period. mitterauer certainly makes the connection between manorialism and the hajnal line in the east explicit, but he doesn’t consider what the evolutionary significances of manorialism for european populations might have been (not that there’s anything wrong with that! he’s a historian, after all!).

my working theories are (see also previous posts below): 1) that manorialism, along with the church’s bans on close marriage, contributed to the loosening of the genetic ties of european extended families/clans/tribes; and 2) that manorialism contributed to the late marriage practices of western europeans, and even possibly (probably) selected for individuals who were able to put marriage off.

with regard to the first point, manorialism contributed to the breakdown of europe’s clans/tribes since the manor system demanded that family units be no larger than nuclear in size. clans or tribes just didn’t fit the system. the system also contributed to the loosening of genetic ties since a peasant had to get permission from the lord of the manor to marry rather than just marry his kissin’ cousin. in fact, it would’ve been in the lords’ interests to break the power of clans or tribes ’cause they were just trouble and, as manorialism expanded, the lords would’ve been looking for a compliant, dedicated workforce — not a bunch of extended family members dedicated first and foremost to each other.

secondly, which peasants succeeded in the world of the manor? presumably hard-working, maybe kinda intelligent — but how about also able to hold off on the urge to mate until one was well-established? (sound like any group of people we know?)

under the manor system, you didn’t get to rent a farm from the lord — i.e. make a living — until he was good and ready to let you a farm. and you couldn’t marry until you had some land to work. those individuals who couldn’t hold off, reproductively speaking, until they were in a position to marry would’ve lost out — they wouldn’t have been considered responsible enough to be a part of the lord’s manor — or, at least, they would’ve wound up somewhere at the bottom of the heap — selected out.

i think it’s reasonable to assume that the lords of the manors would’ve selected responsible, hard-working, bright men and women to work their lands (they were looking for a profit, after all) — and their selection practices would’ve, in turn, selected — in the evolutionary sense — for certain types of individuals within western european society. and these types of individuals — hard-working, bright, able to delay their own gratification — would’ve carried these traits forward once manoralism disappeared and europeans became independent farmers in their own right. in fact, maybe they never would’ve managed that if their ancestors hadn’t gone through the manorialism sieve in the first place.

it’s an idea, anyway.

and, finally:



previously: medieval manoralism and genetic relatedness and assortative mating and the selection for high iq in (some) medieval european populations?

(note: comments do not require an email. where’s my clear plastic folder?)



  1. That essentially articulates Harpending and Cochrans theory on civilization accelerating evolution. Low time preference people selected out, and thus, you get the IQ differences. Great post.


  2. Interestingly Austrasia looks like it’s centred on the bit of northern France that would have(?) been the most heavily colonized by the Franks. If so the key might be that it was a *new* form created specifically because of those circumstances. The advantages of the form, once noted, leading to it being adapted in adjacent terriotories in a ripple effect modified by suitability of terrain.


  3. @secular x blood – “Low time preference people selected out, and thus, you get the IQ differences.”

    yup! i have to admit, tho, that i’m more interested in other hbd differences between peoples aside from the whole iq thing. iq is obviously very important — extremely important — but i find other questions to be more interesting. why, for instance, did western europe turn out so differently from east asia? they’ve got high iqs, too — why didn’t they develop liberal democracy, “corporate” societies, etc., etc.? (or, to turn the question around, why didn’t we develop more like east asia?)

    i think these things are, at least partly, connected to the evolution of certain social behaviors, like altruism. that’s my angle on the whole hbd thang. (^_^)

    @secular x blood – “Great post.”

    thnx for saying so! (^_^)


  4. @g.w. – “I’m curious why the Franks would develop it in situ like that but that doesn’t effect the main point of the post.”

    me, too! mitterauer doesn’t explain it clearly (at least not clear enough for me to grasp (~_^) ). the development of manoralism is connected to where there were roman villae rustica before the collapse of the empire, but why the template for manorialism, which spread right across europe, should’ve started with the franks in that specific region is not clear to me, either. if you find out, lemme know! (^_^)


  5. Reblogged this on Marmalade and commented:
    I learned more by reading this blog post, an article really, than I’ve learned from most teachers I’ve had. This is the type of analysis I absolutely love. It gave me a framework to look at the world differently.


  6. @benjamin – “I learned more by reading this blog post, an article really, than I’ve learned from most teachers I’ve had. This is the type of analysis I absolutely love. It gave me a framework to look at the world differently.”

    awww, shucks! (*^_^*) thank you!


  7. I just was reading about the diversity among the people in the Cambro Norman/English colony in Wexford Ireland. People from south Wales with French, Flemish and Welsh names, English from various areas, descendants of Ostmen, and even Gaelic Irish living on the manors there, outside that line.


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